Archaeological Alliances

I was excited to attend the second workshop in the Preserving the Past Together series last Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed the first workshop and was eager to build on that experience. Also, I was excited to hear Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh speak. I have read some of his work and discussed his concepts in several classes, so I was curious to see what he was like in person. As a student, the authors that we read can sometimes appear intimidating and inaccessible, so I was thrilled to confirm that Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh is a normal human being. One point that he brought up was that collaboration between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples is not always going to look the same; it can take multiple forms and can vary over space and time. The important thing is that the needs of the archaeologist do not trump the needs of the tribe, and that the tribe sets the terms of engagement. The archaeologist’s goal should not be to extract knowledge from the tribe, but to generate knowledge together.

Another aspect of the seminar that I really enjoyed was the interactive component. During the workshop we separated into smaller groups and had the opportunity to share our thoughts and hear from multiple people. My group consisted of UW faculty members and an individual who works at a local museum. We discussed how to address colonialism in archaeology and came up with several useful approaches. For one, developing reciprocal relationships is extremely important; historically, relationships between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples have been hierarchical which has proven to be harmful. Another solution is to confront colonialism head-on and put it at the center of archaeological projects rather than skirting the issue.

Although some participants appeared to be less optimistic than others, I think it is important that we as students immerse ourselves in these kinds of discussions. If we learn to approach archaeology from a collaborative standpoint and focus on developing reciprocal relationships rather than exploitative ones, we can change how archaeology is done in the future.


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